"Can you hear me now?" is the question my mom and I ask each other most often over the phone, even beating, "What did you have for dinner?"
Do other people talk about food like we do?
I like to know what I'm missing, and my mom needs to know I'm not starving.
For two women who talk a lot, we suffer from bad cellphone reception — and only for our calls to one another. It's like the universe is playing a cruel trick on us, or maybe saying, "Enough already," but whenever we call each other, the sound cuts in and out.
And every time, we take it personally.
We know the problem is external, and yet we inevitably start blaming each other. It shows the limits of human nature, or at least mother-daughter nature.
I'll be telling my mom a story, and all of a sudden, she'll go, "You just cut out. I'm not hearing you."
"Oh, no, let me move. Can you hear me now?
"I hear nothing. Are you there?"
"Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?" I repeat while running around my apartment. None of which she hears.
"Do you know that I can't hear you? You. Cut. Out," she'll say louder, although I hear her perfectly.
Meanwhile, I'm getting more and more aggravated changing locations and repeating, "Can you hear me now?" so that by the time the reception finally returns, I sound like, "ARGH, CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?"
"Hey, don't yell at me. I didn't do anything!"
"Ugh, Mom, I know.I wasn't yelling at you."
"Well, that's not a very nice tone! It's not my fault the service is bad. Don't get mad at me. Be mad at the phone."
"I AM MAD AT THE PHONE!"
"BUT YOU'RE YELLING AT ME!"
And we're off to the races. We take turns switching roles, but the script is roughly the same.
Trust me, we've looked into fixing this — changing phones, changing providers, getting a brain-cancer-inducing signal-booster installed in my apartment — but we haven't found an effective and appealing solution.
We're so good at fighting as it is.
I've narrowed down where the service is the worst in my apartment: my kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and entryway, which leaves me about 100 square feet. So I call her most often during my dog walks, when our call is interrupted only by people admiring Pip. Attempts to learn where the service is worst at my mom's house have been unsuccessful because my mom doesn't understand how to check the cell strength.
"Mom, how many bars do you have where you are?"
"The bars at the top left."
"The WiFi is good; I'm right next to the thingy."
"Not the WiFi, that's the internet. Next to that, the bars beside AT&T."
"Oh, I don't know, it's too small to see."
But our misunderstanding gave me a different idea: FaceTime.
Our cell signal may suck, but the WiFi thingy is strong, and that's all you need for video chatting. Plus, my mom has a theory that our fights over the phone and in the car start because we can't see each other's facial expressions (which are surely beatific and empathy-inducing, definitely not attitudinal or eye-rolling), so FaceTiming should solve that.
She's half-right — because she's usually only half in the frame.
FaceTime is supposed to be easy. People do it with babies. But have you ever tried it with an adult mother? I can't seem to teach my mom how to center herself in the camera when we video chat.
For my generation, FaceTime is intuitive. Like all millennials, I went through a secret selfie-certification course where I learned how to find good light, extend my arm, tilt my head at a flattering angle, and keep my fingertips out of the frame.
I have not blinked in a photo since 2007.
If anything, my problem is breaking the habit of looking at myself in the corner window.
My mother, on the other hand, holds the phone under her chin and talks directly into the microphone, so I'm looking up her nose. Or she holds the phone upright, but too high, so I am looking at her forehead.
"Are you looking at my roots?" she'll ask.
"Your roots are all I can see."
In either case, she holds it one inch from her face, so I can check out her pores while we're talking. She could up her moisturizer.
Sometimes, she sets the phone down so it points directly at the ceiling lights, and then I get to feel like I'm FaceTiming with God.
Not far off, if you ask Her.
But I will say we've had more laughs than fights. It's fun. We pull the dogs into the frame and occasionally an unsuspecting cat. I show her new shoes that I bought; she shows me the latest blooms in the garden. And, of course, we each show each other what we're cooking.
Call it DinnerTime.
Whatever the technology, communication between mothers and daughters may never be perfect. But my mom is still my first phone call when something really good or really bad happens.
And so she can see that I ate.